Star Wars: The High Republic – A Test of Courage is the second book to be released under the new High Republic publishing initiative. This new time period, set 200 years before any of the movies, takes a look at the Jedi when they were at the height of their power and the Republic was expanding into the Outer Rim Territories. The middle grade novel A Test of Courage is set during the same timeframe as Light of the Jedi, both released on the same day. A Test of Courage is written by veteran Star Wars author Justina Ireland, who has also penned the Young Adult novels Lando’s Luck and Spark of Resistance.
Following the Great Disaster, people are still intent on gathering for the dedication of Starlight Beacon, a space station/Jedi temple/ hyperspace beacon. Among these travelers are the newly appointed 16-year old Jedi knight Vernestra Rwoh, 12-year old scientist Avon Starros and her personal droid J-6, Padawan Imri Cantaros along with his master Douglas Sunvale, and the Dalnan ambassador along with his son Honesty Weft.
During their trip, disaster strikes and the children are left on their own to learn how to survive and figure out how get rescued. This is all while being under attack from the evil Nihil, a group of marauders and pirates that are plaguing the outer rim territories.
As a middle grade novel, the story is written from the third-person limited perspective of several teenagers (or slightly pre-teen), bouncing through the four main characters each chapter as the story progresses. The handoffs between the chapters actually worked really well and often felt like a baton being passed around, where a different character would pick up the narrative for the subsequent chapter.
Although the story takes place during a significant time of the High Republic, like Spark of Resistance, this book plays mostly as a character story, ttaking us into the minds, motivations, and story arcs of the four main characters. Of those four main characters (Vernestra, Avon, Imri, and Honesty), I felt that this was mostly Vernetra’s story, with major additions by Avon. And while Imri was an important character, he felt more like a person for Vernestra to play off of to further her character arc, while the character of Honesty was often forgotten about in the mix with the other much stronger characters.
Vernestra’s problem is that she is one of the youngest people to ever be knighted as a Jedi and she is unsure of her powers and how, or even if, she should use some of her gifts. Avon is a 12-year old genius with a knack for altering droids and looking at things from a scientific perspective. Imri is a padawan who doesn’t even know if he wants to be a padawan, on the opposite end of the spectrum from Vernestra, with powers that are on the weaker side. And Honesty is a boy who has never left his planet, forced to accompany his father on an ambassadorial trip that he didn’t want to be on in the first place.
Over the course of the story, the characters realize that not only do they each have specialized talents that will help save them along the way, but they are all uniquely alike one another. A trait that isn’t apparent at first but eventually binds them is a will to survive — of course, their trials are not always easily solved and things get pretty dark at times, making this story a bit of a heartbreaker in parts.
As a scientist myself, watching how Avon talked and reacted to things made it feel authentic. Like Kevin Hearne’s Heir of the Jedi book, this book plays up the science versus faith debate that I feel is inherent in Star Wars, where Avon is the advocate for science and Vernestra is the advocate for faith. They have great back and forths, and although this is often not the cause for the arguments, it lies at the heart of it.
On a side note, I had initially thought when getting this book that it was an exceptionally small book, though comparing it to some of the other books on my bookshelf, the size isn’t unprecedented since both Guardian of the Whills, and The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! are both the same size. However, A Test of Courage is actually longer than both of those and it did take me longer than I was expecting to read. The book itself also has fantastic splash page artwork in a few places throughout the text, which gives the reader a great visualization of not only the characters in the book but also the places that they going to.
Ireland’s writing style is smooth flowing and easy to read. And since it is third-person limited perspective, limited on the character of focus for that particular chapter, there aren’t any jarring transitions between chapters. And while this is a good thing for a middle grade novel, I also appreciate it. Sometimes it is nice to just be able to sit down and enjoy a book without it feeling like homework to read.
Overall, the story was a lot of fun. I heard a lot of chatter that this book clearly isn’t “geared towards adults”, however I would say that even though this is marketed towards “middle grades”, it really is an enjoyable story for anyone — at least anyone who can get into the hearts and minds of teenagers. The story is very well written, with enjoyable characters learning to work with each other and overcoming their own self-doubts/issues. It also gives a great expansion of the Nihil conflict going on in the galaxy presented to us in Light of the Jedi.
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